Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION: LIFE AND ACTION


It is necessary to understand the meaning of words in the light of their context; but in certain cases the ordinary meaning is unsuitable, and we have to find out a better one. Action consists of parts, corresponding to which words too have been divided into parts to express their idea. Articles of food express the idea of pleasure or satisfaction; but even these words may have to be divided into parts if necessary. Certain words cannot be divided into parts; the meaning of some has been defined; while others have to be divided into parts to be understood.

Those who are devoted to spiritual knowledge cannot be accused of misconduct; and if we understand the language of the text properly, we shall find that they have acted properly all the time. But words should be divided into parts only when their common meaning is not satisfactory.

Certain ideas are associated with certain objects; and it is necessary to know them in order to understand the real meaning of the text. We should not act under the urge of desire; but the desires of those who make sacrifices should be satisfied. All action is performed by the living: the action associated with the dead refers to their funeral rites. Health is necessary to life, and the idea can easily be understood; but in certain cases it may be necessary to divide words into parts to get it.

Actions meant for the sake of Dharma should always be performed. If we are obliged to omit any, they should be secondary and not principal actions. If, however, we omit a small portion of such actions, we should not be troubled about it. There can be no extinction of action, because some part of it will always remain; and thought is closely allied to action. This is easy to understand; and in this case it is not necessary to reduce words to their rudimentary form to understand their meaning. But in the case of certain words relating to fundamental objects, it is necessary to divide them into parts to understand their meaning. In certain other cases, however, we may have to adopt a different course. We sometimes find that the latter part of a statement contradicts an earlier one. This is intentional, and is meant to indicate that we have to divide words into parts to understand their meaning.

Meaning depends on the context: We can understand the meaning of words only in the light of their context: for instance,) the word krshnala (meaning "a small piece of gold", does not appear to make sense, and) seems to indicate immaturity of expression; but it can have this meaning if it is clearly stated that it is used in connection with a donation or a gift. If the words upastarana and abhigharana have any permanent value, their common meanings as "spreading over" and "besprinkling" cannot be of any use; and we a have to find meanings of a more permanent value in order to explain them, for otherwise there would be confusion. The word chatur (meaning "the number four"), which appears to serve no special purpose, signifies "completeness" when understood in its exact sense; and it is for this reason that we get the word chatura again and again (for it is the same as chatur, but means "clever, skilful").

We can get the real meaning of the word chatur by dividing it into parts, ch, t, u, r meaning "(cha) the mind associated with (t, u, r) the senses of knowledge and action"; and so, like charts, it represents the complete function of the mind, which may, for practical purposes, be identified with that of the intellect. It is for this reason that it refers to the idea of completeness or skill in action. There are a number of references in the Upanishads to the importance of the number four: for instance, the cow is said to stand on four legs, a stanza on four verses, etc.

It may be of interest to point out that there are four stages in the evolution of things in Nature: for instance, the organic cell passes through four stages to attain to maturity. As this would appear to be the law of life, the number four represents the idea of completeness. The word chatura is sometimes distinguished from chatur; the one meaning "clever, skilful", and the other "the number four"; but the two may also be used in the same sense alike. Hence, the use of the word chatura should tell us that the meaning of chatur is also the same, that is "clever, etc.".

Parts of an action, and of a word: Action is measured in terms of its principal achievement, but it consists of a number of parts into which it can be divided; and they all contribute to that achievement. We get the idea of numbers, because in every case they represent the parts of a principal action. Similarly, it is equally impossible to get a single word to express the idea of all the parts of such action; and it would be necessary to combine together a number of words to express the idea of but a single achievement. In any case it would be impossible to describe all the changes an action undergoes by adding together words in this manner. It may be possible to do so in the case of certain kinds of actions which relate to the idea of a sacrifice or an intelligent action; but it would be impossible to do so with regard to the rest. Indeed, the thing will not work if the meaning of each part does not blend with that of the other; (and so it is necessary to get a proper meaning of words).

Articles of food and drink: So far as articles of food and drink are concerned, they signify pleasure or satisfaction; and the idea is so clear, that it would serve no useful purpose to change the form of these words to understand their meaning. But even they may have to be changed if there is no reference to a receptacle (or recipient) of food.

An Illustration: Thus the word ajya-bhaksha (meaning, "eating or drinking clarified butter") should be taken in its original form, as a whole expression, because it should not be divided into parts. On the other hand the meaning of the word hiranya ("gold") is like the making of an offering in the fire (an intelligent action); while that of the word ajya is obtained by dividing it into parts. As ajya-bhaksha refers to an article of food and drink, it expresses the idea of pleasure clearly enough, and so it is not necessary to change its form. We have explained how the meaning of ajya can be obtained by dividing it into parts.

These three words tell us how the text has to be interpreted: we should take some words as they are; the meanings of some are defined; while others have to be divided into parts.

Need of proper understanding: It is necessary to properly understand the language of the text to know the exact idea; for instance, those who are devoted to spiritual knowledge are forever engaged in acts of sacrifice; and their ability to have that knowledge is tested by their acts, because sacrifice is a part of their very nature or character. Such persons should be able to attain to all that they desire as a matter of right; and it would be a calumny to say that they are guilty of misconduct in anything that they do. If, however, they are accused of misconduct, it would be found, on a proper examination of the language of the text that they have acted suitably to the occasion. (It may be necessary to divide words into parts to understand all this) but if the words give us a single satisfactory meaning, they should not be divided into parts.

The Mimansa has already referred to the supposed "misconduct" of Indra. Krshna too is similarly accused; but if we examine the language of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Purana properly, we shall find that what the Mimansa says here is literally true.

Special terms; Dadati: Certain ideas are expressed in a certain way, and it is necessary to understand them to know the real meaning of the text; for instance, the gift given to the Ritvij priests has a meaning corresponding to the actions of each; and we get it from the proper idea of the word dadati (meaning "he gives"). We have explained that the Ritvij priests refer to the four faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind, and the senses, which take part in action. Each of them is given a "gift" to indicate that it has done its work properly.

Dakshina; a purchase, produce of forest, remnants of food: Again, a gift implies a certain sense of satisfaction or enjoyment, because that is the object of action, as we find among the people. It is dakshina, because of its appropriateness; and it should not be held in low esteem because it ministers to satisfaction or enjoyment, for all action is performed with the object of obtaining something. It is this idea that is expressed in terms of purchasing or paying for a thing; while the acquisition of something that grows naturally in a forest is called food that has merely to be fetched; for it is obtained without doing any work, and that is the reason why it is praised. The remnants of food may also be regarded in the same light.

The idea of satisfaction derived from the action of each of these faculties is expressed in terms of dakshina or gift given to the "priests", because the word means "a gift" and also signifies "skill, cleverness". Hence it is appropriate.

Living on food grown in the forest signifies a life of renunciation of action, as has already been explained. It has merely to be fetched, and is very different from what has to be paid for. That is the reason why those who believe in renunciation praise this kind of life, or living on food grown in the forest. Living on remnants of food may also be regarded as a symbol of renunciation, as is signified by the word kapala, which means "a beggar's bowl", and beggars live on such remnants.

Other meanings of remnants: The idea of remnants may also be taken in a different way. If an object is intended for some important use, it may be described in ornate terms; but all remnants are alike. A learned man or a spiritual teacher may come to the conclusion that all things are alike; and so we may, from this, form a general notion that all things should be regarded as alike (and so they may be described in terms of remnants of food). It is in this manner that we find a different meaning in the language of the text. As all remnants may be regarded as alike, remnants of food may also express the idea that all things, however apparently different, are really the same. That is, he who lives on remnants may be said to believe this.

Honor of Ritvij priests, their wage: Similarly, the honor paid to the Ritvij priests in a great Soma sacrifice is not for the purpose of saluting them, but is meant to express the idea of our own actions; and the payment of a "wage" is intended to show that it is in connection with Soma that they do so. We have already explained that the four Ritvij priests refer to the four faculties of man; while Soma refers to the mind. All these faculties engage in action, which is caused by desire, an attribute of the mind. Hence the Ritvij "priests" are associated with a Soma sacrifice, or a proper function of the mind.

The Mimansa tells us clearly that we honor these "priests" because they act for us (or the soul, the "institutor" of the sacrifice); and they are paid for their task, to indicate that these faculties really act at the bidding of the soul, and in answer to our desire.

Prohibition against action; how described: The idea of prohibition against action is like that of action too; and it is expressed in terms of proceeding, as a matter of duty, to that part of the sacrificial enclosure where the fire has been extinguished. The Mimansa tells us that the prohibition against action, or inaction, as it may be called is really like action, or is another form of action. It is a kind of action at a certain stage of our life, when our intellect tells us that the spark is extinguished, and so it is our duty to renounce all action. It is at this stage that action is prohibited, and it is described in special terms: we have to proceed, as a matter of duty, to that part of the sacrificial enclosure (symbolic of action) where the fire has been extinguished (our intellect tells us that the spark has died out). It may be of interest to point out that the Bhagavad Gita too tells us that what is called inaction is really a form of action.

Dakshina: The word dakshina does not refer to prohibition in any case; and so is constantly repeated by means of a number of synonyms. The word dakshina signifies skill in action, and not inaction; and so it cannot in any case refer to prohibition against action.

Desire, action and a gift: There is a characteristic mark of the mind (desire) in the concluding part of an action, because the mind enters into every part of it. In the circumstances, the offer of a gift (which represents the idea of satisfaction in action) should be regarded as a matter of duty. This means that action is not only preceded, but also followed by desire, as a result of which a person engages in one action after another. This also implies that we are satisfied that the previous action should come to an end; and, as dana or gift represents this idea of satisfaction, it is a duty to offer it at the end of an action.

These meanings are defined: We do not get these meanings by reducing words to their rudimentary form, but by means of a distinct injunction to that effect. We get 40 them from the text itself, through the usual form of words; and there is no ambiguity or doubt, even as there is none when we speak of a double sacrifice. A double sacrifice means an action that is doubly good and intelligent; and there can be no ambiguity about its idea.

How to obtain the meaning of Ritvij priests: In these circumstances different Ritvij priests should be selected for the grant of these "gifts"; and the meaning of each of them can, without exception, be obtained by reducing their names to their rudimentary form; and we shall find that there is only one system of connecting the parts of words with one another. The different Ritvij priests refer to the different faculties of man, each of which has its own special part to play, though all of them have their share in action. Hence, we must find out which of them has the most important role at any particular moment of time. We have already explained that their meanings can be obtained by dividing their names into parts.

Dana: When we get the word dana (a gift) we should understand that it really means the attainment of an object of desire, or satisfaction or enjoyment arising out of it; and it is used in connection with the function of the mind (Soma). There is no such satisfaction in the case of an evil deed (or the act of an enemy); and so we are told that it would be bad policy to give dakshina (or a sacrificial fee) to an enemy. The idea of dana, as expressive of the idea of satisfaction, has already been explained. As desire is an attribute of the mind, we have a reference to the mind in this Sutra; and the word for it is Soma. Dakshina, as has already been explained, signifies "skill in action"; and so conceives of action as something good. It is therefore said to mean a sacrificial fee. An enemy is one who does evil, and dakshina cannot be offered to an enemy.

Bone-sacrifice: The bone-sacrifice refers to death; and while it is necessary to perform it, it should be performed (not by the Ritvij priests, but) by others, for they are not permitted to take part in it and all that which has been said in this connection should be regarded as appropriate. The four Ritvij priests or the four faculties of man act at the bidding of the "master of the sacrifice" or the soul; and so they can function only when a person is alive. Hence, they cannot take part in a "bone-sacrifice" which is meant to express the idea of action in connection with the dead.

Japa: We find from the statement of the sacred books that the consecration (or sacrifice) of japa (or silent repetition of a sacred name) signifies action without any (selfish) aim; and the desire for it is intended to indicate that (selflessness of action). This would explain why the Bhagvad Gita gives the highest place among all sacrifice to japa: it symbolizes the idea of a purely selfless action.

Action with a purpose: But we are also required to perform other actions, characterized by a purpose or aim, though they would be regarded as being of a secondary importance. But actions which are prompted by personal gain, where we do not know the exact nature of our desire should be regarded as unsuitable, and should not be done. Where, however, there is no motive of personal gain, the object of action becomes as sweet and melodious as a well-recited hymn; and such actions should always be performed, as being worthy of all praise.

Action and urge of desire: We should not act under the urge of desire; and if we are able to eliminate it in some cases, we shall succeed in others too. The desires of those who act in a spirit of sacrifice should be satisfied; but these desires should not be limited to blessing some particular object only. The Bhagavad Gita conceives of desires that are not opposed to Dharma as worthy of all praise and we are told that the wise ones are ever intent on doing good to all. The desires of good men should, therefore, not be limited to securing some particular object only: they should be for the benefit of all.

Action of the living and the dead: All action is associated with living creatures; and no action, however small, which involves the function of the mind, can be performed by the dead. It is, however, possible to think of action in connection with both the living and the dead, if there is a clear reference to that effect. But when a person dies, the action associated with him refers to his funeral rites. (The expression in the text refers to a bone-sacrifice, which is said to be a part of funeral rites, and so refers to them). The expression in the text is sarva-svara, which is the name of a Soma sacrifice lasting for a day only. As Soma refers to the mind, and the period of a day is a short one, this has been rendered as referring to "action (sacrifice) involving the function of the mind (Soma), however small (lasting a day)".

Life and death: If a person is alive, it should be presumed that he wishes to keep in health; and it is not necessary to make a special mention of it, because life is meant for health (or health is essential to life). But there may be a special mention of it too; and its idea will be obtained by means of a division of words into parts n the manner already explained.

Obligatory actions: We should always perform actions which are meant purely for the sake of Dharma (duty or righteousness). If, however, we are obliged to omit some, they should be secondary and not principal actions.

Omission of small things: But if we omit a small portion of such actions, we should not think of it, for calculation depends on the quantity to be calculated (or it would be necessary to think of it if a large portion were involved).

No extinction of action: There can be no extinction of action, because some part of it will always remain; and if we understand this relationship, we shall find that calculation is only a modified form of quantity (or thinking is proportionate to the amount of work), for the two are equal: only the amount or quantity comes first, and thinking or calculation afterwards. If we understand this rule, it is not necessary to reduce words to their rudimentary form to understand their correct meaning.

Meaning of words relating to Dravyas or fundamental substances: But in the case of words relating to the original properties of things, it is necessary to divide them into parts, according to the nature of the substance (dravya) concerned, because they are original substances, and not produced from something else, like effect from a cause. But in the case of words which refer to occasional things, produced by some cause, since they are an effect (and not the cause), their meaning may be obtained by means of division into parts, if that is how they have been framed. In this case, however, if we find that the meaning so obtained is contradictory, we should give up the attempt to divide them into parts, and take them as they are, because that is how they have been formed to refer to action.

The word used in the text is dravya, which has a number of meanings. But when used in a philosophical sense, it refers to a fundamental substance mentioned in the Darsanas or systems of philosophy. The Vaiseshika mentions nine such dravyas, the five great "elements," space, time, mind and the soul. The Mimansa tells us that when words refer to these fundamental substances, it is necessary to divide them into parts to understand their meaning, for they have been framed in that manner. We have already been told that a number of words used in the text are newly coined for the purpose.

Idea of contradictory statements: We sometimes find that a subsequent part of a statement contradicts an earlier one. That is indeed intentional; for, when there is an absence of sense, it is an indication that we should understand the correct use of words (that is, by means of division into parts). We follow this method, with its change of form of words, because the text makes sense in this manner; and so we conclude that it is intended that the real meaning should be found in that way.